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Hubbard Street Gallery Scene | Art & Design in Chicago

Hubbard Street Gallery Scene

The women of Artemisia
The women of Artemisia

The district just north of the Chicago River may today be filled with nightclubs and restaurants full of young people out to see and be seen, but in the 1970s, it was a bit seedy, the site of industrial warehouses – and a burgeoning alternative art scene. Frustrated with the lack of galleries to show their work in Chicago, young artists began to set up alternative exhibition spaces. Attracted by cheap rents and supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, many of them set up shop on Hubbard Street.

Hubbard Street Gallery Scene
Watch: Hubbard Street Gallery Scene

At 9 W. Hubbard Street, specifically. That was where a group of artists, many from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, started a collective gallery called N.A.M.E. in 1973. The letters didn’t stand for anything; the group simply couldn’t come up with a title and wrote down NAME on their application for non-profit status. The artists wanted a space for the unestablished, early-career artist to exhibit where there was no pressure to conform to mainstream, salable trends (imagism was predominant in Chicago at the time). Performance art, videos, installations, conceptual pieces, music: N.A.M.E. presented it all.

Two other alternative galleries also opened in 1973, a few blocks north of N.A.M.E. on Ontario Street – and within a few years they had also moved to 9 W. Hubbard. Artemisia was established by a group of women artists who felt underrepresented and condescended to by most galleries and museums. After Joy Poe visited a women’s cooperative gallery in New York, she joined with a group of female artists in Chicago to form their own co-op. They named the co-op after the Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi, many of whose works of Old Testament heroines were credited to her father and who endured a humiliating trial after accusing her painting teacher of raping her. ARC Gallery, another women’s co-op, was formed the same year.


Learn more about the history and controversy of Artemisia.

The two co-ops guaranteed their dues-paying members one solo show per year as well as participation in group shows and offered an exhibition space to women, especially those with families, who were often dismissed by the mainstream as “not serious.” They sought to change the public’s attitude towards female artists and also offered business mentorship programs and curatorial opportunities, as in Women Choose Men exhibitions.

As often happens, however, the move of artists into a rundown neighborhood – N.A.M.E., Artemisia, and ARC were followed by the Center for New Television, Chicago Filmmakers, and Lillstreet Gallery, among others – led to gentrification, and rising rents continually forced the galleries to relocate. As more spaces opened up to non-mainstream artists, the need for alternative galleries also decreased. N.A.M.E. closed in 1997 and Artemisia in 2003, though ARC lives on.